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.

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

November 11, 2009

I’m Dreaming of a Musical Christmas

christmas cactus

I love this season. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, and right after that come holiday parties and celebrations. I entertain at some New Jersey parties that have long histories, often going back for decades.

December is a busy season, playing piano and singing at both private parties and corporate events. Many of them have annual traditions I always look forward to. One particular house party includes an elaborate sing-along with not only the usual classics, but also the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah”, sung in four-part harmony. I actually spend a lot of time rehearsing this, because I want to match the high quality of the singers. And my piano playing is not the only musical entertainment; a bagpipes player is a special treat.

Another Christmas party has a charming custom of asking guests to bring small items symbolizing something they’ve done in the past year, and hanging them on the tree. For another party, close friends jointly host the event at their country club.

And then there are the great songs. In my opinion, Christmas songs are some of the best ever written. Among my personal favorites are “White Christmas”, “The Christmas Song” (“Chestnuts roasting…”), and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” originally sung by Judy Garland in the movie “Meet Me in St. Louis.” Finally there is “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow.”  Would you believe this song was written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne in 1945 on one of the hottest July days recorded in Hollywood?

At these parties and all others, the camaraderie, warmth, and joy are palpable. I leave each one feeling honored and privileged to have been a part of it.

However you celebrate your holiday, I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and a Happy Holiday season.

Creative Commons License photo credit: anee.baba

Filed under: Performances — Tags: , , — Joan Streit @ 9:17 pm

November 4, 2009

An Evening with KT Sullivan and Mark Nadler

KT Sullivan and Mark Nadler

KT Sullivan and Mark Nadler

Last month I went with my husband and our friend Marcia, a fellow cabaret enthusiast, to the South Orange Performing Arts Center, SOPAC.  It’s a wonderful theater with just 400 seats, just right for cabaret.

We went to see Mark Nadler and KT Sullivan, and what a performance the two put on! Mark Nadler has a range that goes from romance to comedy to manic energy. He’s known as “the crazy man on the piano.” KT has a voice that is, forgive the cliché, clear as a bell. Among other places, they have both performed at Carnegie Hall, New York City’s Town Hall, and Rose Hall at Jazz at Lincoln Center.

On October 3rd they had traveled all day to arrive in South Orange, and Mark said that he needed the energy of the audience that night to support them. At one point he performed an original pairing of Cole Porter songs “You’ve Got That Thing” and “They Couldn’t Compare to You.” He sang with finesse, and occasionally such gusto and at top speed, without a flaw, that my husband gave him a standing ovation.

Their act was somewhat unplanned. They thought they were doing a Gershwin review, while the program was billed as “Cole Porter and Friends.” Mark quipped that the show was going to be more like “Friends and Cole Porter.” Who cares? (Forgive the Gershwin reference!) They’re troupers, they have worked together so many times, and they improvised a bit. Performing songs by Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hart and Irving Berlin, Mark and KT were wonderful together and separately.

SOPAC has a variety of performances including serious theater, comedy, and music of all kinds. If you’re not familiar with the performance space, check out the schedule.

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

October 29, 2009

A Reunion to Remember

Nancy Evans Herman & Morty Weinstein

Nancy Evans Herman, Joan, Morty Weinstein

Recently I entertained at the 60th class reunion of Weequahic High School. I’ve played for all ages, from baby namings and christenings to 90th birthday parties. But there is a special kind of good feeling when old friends, some of whom have not seen each other for 10 or more years, get together. I shouldn’t use the word “old.” These were very young and spry individuals.

The reunion took place at Cedar Hill Country Club in Livingston. My contact was Nancy Evans Herman, a member of the class of 1949 whom I had met, with her husband, years ago while playing at Nordstrom at the Short Hills Mall. I actually played for Mr. Herman’s high school reunion a number of years ago! I must thank Nancy; it was her idea for the reunion committee to hire me to entertain at the event.

I  enjoyed  meeting committee member Morty Weinstein. A few weeks before, Morty called me and suggested a few particular songs for me to play and sing – some “oldies” like “Unchained Melody” and “As Time Goes By”. And of course, as always happens, several other attendees came up to me at the piano to request songs. It is always such a pleasure to play requests, wherever I’m performing. I know these particular songs triggered some happy memories from decades ago.

During musical breaks, a few reunion attendees were asked to come up and share their memories of being at Weequahic in the late 40’s. One gentlemen remembered a particular teacher and her unique way of cajoling the students to be quiet. “Do you remember what she used to do?” And of course they all did remember. She threatened to jump out of the window, if they didn’t behave! I wouldn’t recommend that threat these days.

What a great time we all had, including myself!

Filed under: Performances — Tags: , , , , — Joan Streit @ 1:16 am
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