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SHOW TUNE VIRTUOSOS [[image – drawing: a classical-piano virtuoso, wearing a formal white tie and tail coat, sits on a piano bench in front of what we can see of the keyboard and propped-open top of a grand piano. He appears to be balding but with long hair to either side. His hands are dramatically raised before the keyboard.]] That hardy perennial - the show tune - survivor of ragtime, jazz, swing, Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and disco, is enjoying a renewed vogue in after-dark spots all over town. PLAYBILL recently talked with ten of Manhattan's top show tune pianists and singers, who agree that Broadway music is bigger than ever and that young people in their twenties have embraced its lilt and literacy with demonstrable rapture. Years ago, famed pianists like Cy Walter, Roger Sterns and Goldie Hawkins interpreted show music in their distinctive, scintillating keyboard styles. Then came Bobby Short, heralding the new era of saloon pianists who also sang the works of the masters. Perched in his "regal eagle's nest at the Café Carlisle (35 E. 76th St.) Bobby Short remains the best-known of the saloon show tune singers. The ten pianists interviewed have several things in common: all but one are out-of-towners, all but two of them sing, all focus on show music (with some movie and current pop tunes thrown in), all play request numbers and all discourage patrons who want to sing along with them. They also all agree that Broadway show tunes represent America's finest popular music expression. "In the early 1960's," says Charles Cochrane, the singing pianists at the Wine Press (1160 First Avenue), "playing old show tunes became taboo. Everyone wanted to hear Beatles songs to prove they were 'with it.' Pianists who specialized in Broadway songs had to alter their repertoires or find a club where this genre of music was still appreciated. Fortunately, the famine didn't last long and there's a whole new audience out there thirsting for show music." That white-haired eminence of the keyboard, Hugh Shannon, whose famous a saloon singer was celebrated in a [[italics]]New Yorker Profile[[/italics]] in 1977, is currently holding court at David K's (Third Ave. at 65th St.). "I'm now playing for the sons and daughters of famous people who got married to my music," he rasps in his celebrated sandpaper voice. "They know the tunes and the lyrics, too! They consider it a status symbol – like owning a Rolls Royce – to know a Cole Porter song. Their favorites are 'Night and Day,' 'Begin the Beguine,' and 'I Get a Kick Out of You.'" Mr. Shannon's fans, many of them titled, follow him all over the world, wherever he's playing – Capri, London, Paris, Rome and the Virgin Islands. He likes them to sit close to his piano and chats with them between numbers. "The atmosphere when I perform," he explains, "is like a drawing room. My friends are not quiet. They talk, but I don't mind. I weave a tapestry of music for their conversations as the saloon pianists of yesteryear used to do. I'm speaking of the great ones like Cy Walter and Roger Sterns. I know about 2,000 songs. Most club pianists know 30 and think that's a lot. I prefer old show tunes to current ones. They were more glamorous, exciting and witty. In the 1920's, a musical had to have five hit tunes to be a success. Today if a show has [[italics]]one[[/italics]], it's lucky." Hugh Shannon can be heard on a new album, [[italics]]True Blue Hugh[[/italics]] (Audiophile) that showcases his smoky-voiced style. Another vintage pianist/singer, Murray Grand, plays on a small balcony at the by Louis Botto 64 [[end page]] [[start page]] Village Green (531 Hudson St.). Grand, who composed and wrote lyrics for several [[italics]]New Faces[[/italics]] revues, performs his fondly remembered "Guess Who I Saw Today?" "April In Fairbanks," I Was Beautiful," and "What's A Lady like Me Doing in A Place Like This?" Grand, like Hugh Shannon, talks with his audience about show tunes. "I ask them questions," he says, "conduct quizzes – and they love it. It's like a college seminar on Broadway show tunes. My sessions are as informal as a cocktail party. Some of my fans come in jeans, others come in limousines." Among his admirers: Lauren Bacall, Shirley MacLaine and playwright David Mamet. Popular Ronny Whyte at The Conservatory (Mayflower Hotel, 15 Central Park West) says: "the lyrics of the show tune are the most important to me. I like to bring a fresh point of view to a song – not just do it as it was done in the show. My most requested song is 'Send in the Clowns.' Stephen Sondheim has been in to see me several times and has given me some of his unpublished songs to perform – 'Happily Ever After' and 'Marry Me A Little' (both cut from [[italics]]Company[[/italics]]) and 'That Old Piano Roll' (cut from [[italics]]Follies[[/italics]]). I do three songs from [[italics]]Ballroom[[/italics]] that were never published and they worked like magic." Mr. Whyte has a new album: [[italics]]Ronny Whyte: New York State of Mind[[/italics]] (Monmouth Evergreen), a sparkling collection of New York songs, including his own, "Let Me Show You My New York." A three-year fixture at Ted Hook's [[advertisement]] ARE YOU AN AMBROSIAC? Have you seen "A Chorus Line"… three times? Have you ever seen the sun rise? Did you ever swim nude? [[Image – two figures, in silhouette against a giant full moon, one in trousers and long coat leading by the hand a female figure in a fancy dress with full-length skirt, down from the crest of a hill covered with long grass. Superimposed in the bottom left, a bottle of Ambrosia Liqueur with a tall, full shot glass flanked by a rocks glass with liquid over two ice cubes]] AMBROSIA LIQUEUR Sip it. Savor it. And like a true Ambrosiac, enjoy. © 1979 Imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co., N.Y., N.Y. 56 proof.
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