by: Peter Haas
Some dozens of America’s most popular songs – ranging from rhythm and blues, pop, country, jazz, cabaret, and certainly to rock and roll – were created throughout 60 years by the songwriting partnership of Mike Stoller and Jerry Lieber. This month, these numbers were celebrated – together with Stoller’s 80th birthday and a tribute to the late Lieber– in a lively, star-packed evening as part of the 92nd Street Y’s long-prized Lyrics & Lyricists series.
In a fast-paced show played to a cheering audience packed to the last row of the balcony, the show’s host, musical director/recording artist Paul Shaffer, steered the event warmly and succinctly through some two-dozen numbers. With musical direction by Quinn Johnson, the songs included two 1958 blockbuster hits, “Yakety Yak” and “Charlie Brown, as well as “Smokey Joe’s Café,” all performed, complete with their old dance routines, by 1950s favorites – – The Coasters; Steve Tyrell, still filling cabaret rooms, and singing “Kansas City” and “Charlotte;” Karen Akers, in classic and moving renditions of “Selective Memories” and “Ready to Begin Again;” Sally Kellerman with “Love Potion No. 9” and the Peggy Lee hit, “Is That All There Is;” plus a host of other stars including Billy Stritch; Dee Dee Bridgewater (in a feline-tinged “Some Cats I Know”); Chuck Jackson, Tommy Tune (singing and dancing to “I Got Them Feelin’ Too Good Today Blues”); John Arthur Greene (interpreting Elvis with “Jailhouse Rock” and Corky Hale – for 43 years, Mrs. Mike Stoller – singing “Loving You.”
The tribute came to a close with a few words by Mike Stoller, including warm remembrance of Lieber, followed by an emotion-filled finale as Ben E. King led the entire audience as they stood, weaved and waved back and forth in rhythm and joined him in singing “Stand By Me.”