by Andrew Poretz . . .
Harvey Granat, the very successful businessman turned entertainer and producer, held the first in-person session of this 92Y series since the pandemic. The program presented the songwriting duo, lyricist Johnny Burke and composer Jimmy Van Heusen, who wrote primarily for Hollywood musicals rather than the stage, between 1940 and 1953, including many songs introduced by Bing Crosby. Held in one of the building’s classrooms, Granat interviewed renowned music and popular culture author Will Friedwald and documentary filmmaker Jim Burns, in a 90-minute noontime session that included selections from the Burke/Van Heusen catalog performed by jazz pianist Lenore Raphael, cabaret singer Sara Zahn with accompanist Jonathan L. Segal, as well as Granat himself.
Granat interviewed Friedwald, whose ten published books include “The Song is You,” the authoritative book of Frank Sinatra’s recordings, and his recent deep dive into the career of Nat King Cole (“Straighten Up and Fly Right”), and Burns, whose PBS documentary about Van Heusen introduced him to a new generation of music lovers, discussing the careers of these songwriters and their songs, with several segues from discussion to performance of a song.
Granat, a distinguished-looking fellow with a mellifluous speaking and singing voice, is a knowledgeable interviewer with a passion for the subject. Burns first became interested in Van Heusen when he learned they both attended the same junior and senior high schools in their home towns of Syracuse, New York, albeit some half a century apart.
Lenore Raphael, an internationally esteemed jazz pianist and educator, played the 1940 “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” Sinatra’s first hit with The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Granat sang “Imagination” and “Moonlight Becomes You” with pianist Jonathan Segal.
Sara Zahn, with a beautiful tone and excellent control, performed several ballads, including “Like Someone in Love” and “But Beautiful,” including the rarely sung verses.
Granat playfully had the audience sing along on “Would You Like to Swing On a Star”, Bing Crosby’s big hit that won the Academy Award in 1944.
Harvey asked Lenore to play “Here’s That Rainy Day” a half-step lower so that he could join her on an unplanned opportunity to showcase Burke’s moving, melancholy lyrics. Where is that worn-out wish that I threw aside, after it brought my lover near? It was Johnny Carson’s favorite song, and Carson sang it with Bette Midler on his final TV show.
Van Heusen had an amicable split with Burke in 1953, famously partnering with Sammy Cahn to write most of Sinatra’s greatest hits. Granat ended the afternoon by performing a Cahn/Van Heusen song, “All My Tomorrows.”
Upcoming programs of “Harvey Granat Presents” at the 92nd Street Y include Harry Warren, Irving Berlin in Hollywood, and Fred Astaire.
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