Songwriter Ray Jessel Passes Away at Age 85

 

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A comedy singer, pianist, songwriter, Ray Jessel became an integral part of the New York Cabaret community, frequently making his way from California to perform at the Mabel Mercer Cabaret Convention, Don’t Tell Mama and other venues.

He was 84 when he auditioned for America’s Got Talent Season 9.

Mr. Jessel was noticed by Broadway producer Alexander H. Cohen, who hired him to write songs for his Sherlock Holmes musical BAKER STREET (1965). The song “A Married Man,” sung in the show by Dr. Watson, became a hit recording by Richard Burton and wrote the score for a revival by Cohen of HELLZAPOPPIN, directed by George Abbott,

He had a successful career in television, writing first musical material then comedy sketches for “The Dean Martin Show,” “The Carol Burnett Show,” many John Denver specials, and a long stint with “The Love Boat.” Among many other episodes he wrote the two-hour movie, LOVE BOAT – THE MUSICAL starring Ethel Merman, Carol Channing, Ann Miller, Van Johnson, Cab Calloway and Della Reese. Jessel was also writer/producer of the long-running series “Head of the Class.”

With his current partner Cynthia Thompson, Jessel wrote the song “Whatever Happened To Melody?” It was recorded by Michael Feinstein, on his CD “Forever” and has since been recorded by David Campbell on his CD “Yesterday Is Now” (Phillips/Polygram 1996) and by Masters Of Harmony on their CD, “California Gold Rush” (1996). Another recent Jessel/Thompson recording is their song “I’m All Right Now” on John Pizzarelli’s CD “New Standards.”

Michael Feinstein calls Ray Jessel “the millennium Noel Coward,” and Jessel made his debut (at 72!) as a Cabaret performer at Hollywood’s Gardenia room in April, 2002, making his way to New York’s Town Hall.

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