By Sandi Durell . . .
October 23, 2021 marked the first outdoor public concert to celebrate the official NYC landmark designation of Tin Pan Alley. The building addresses 47 to 55 West 28th Street are now historical landmarks in keeping the birthplace of American Popular Music alive. It didn’t come easy, but took several years spearheaded by George Calderaro (now Director of Tin Pan Alley Project) who brought Erik Bottcher (City Council Member) aboard as they brought their landmark preservation requests to the Mayor’s Office several times to be turned down until Anne del Castillo (Commissioner Mayor’s Office of Media & Entertainment) heard their plea.
The result of all the hard work and caring about American Popular Music came to fruition hosted by Klea Blackhurst and Robert Lamont in this first of many Annual public concert events. Vince Giordano and The Nighthawks with Danny Bacher on vocals and sax opened the festivities with spirited tunes “Ac-Cen-Tchu-Ate The Positive” and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” The band featured Joe Boga on trumpet, Jim Fryer on trombone, Peter Yarin on piano and Douglas Marriner on drums.
DeWitt Fleming Jr. joined in on a special Fleming/Bacher medley featuring the non-stop tap dancing feet of DeWitt Fleming Jr. More great tunes ensued including “Castle House Rag/St. James Infirmary/ Hard Hearted Hannah.”
The irreplaceable Marilyn Maye unveiled the new “Street Sign” before introducing Jennifer Poroye – the Adela & Larry Elow High School Teen American Songbook Contestant – and welcoming Billy Stritch on piano as Ms. Maye and Jennifer involved the audience in singing “Under the Bamboo Tree”. Marilyn Maye launched into her exceptionally arranged New York Medley (“I Happen to Like New York/New York State of Mind/There’s a Boat That’s Leaving Soon for New York/My Personal Property”) with Billy Stritch on piano, Vince Giordano on bass and Douglas Marriner on drums.
Billy Stritch picked up singing and playing with a medley of “Ain’t We Got Fun/Sweet Georgia Brown/Bye Bye Blackbird” and more followed with Klea Blackhurst singing a couple of Hoagy Carmichael tunes. The lush voice of Natalie Douglas offered up “Love for Sale” followed by Terry Waldo & The Gotham City Band with a tune from 1922 “Minnie the Mermaid” and a Fats Waller Medley. Gabrielle Lee joined the fray in her 1920’s shimmer dress singing “A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight”/ Big Butter and Egg Man/ Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home?”
Various authors and historians offered historical information such as Ken Bloom (author of Eubie Blake). Melanie Edwards spoke briefly about J. Rosamond Johnson and her Foundation and making a donation. John Reddick talked about the first black publishing house Gotham-Attucks and how the songbook is a unifying voice for all.
Jennifer Poroye (Robert Lamont, piano) a graduate of LaGuardia H.S. and soon to enter SUNY Purchase, sang “In Gay New York” and “Autumn in New York.”
Tony Award Winner Anita Gillette (with Paul Greenwood on piano) remembered Irving Berlin with two songs “The Secret Service (Makes Me Nervous)” and “Pack Up Your Sins.” Eric Yves Garcia played and sang a jazzy ¾ time arrangement of “You Made Me Love You.” Broadway’s Larry Marshall offered “Somebody Else-Not Me”/Nobody” and introduced Jeannine Otis singing “Memories of You.” Robert Lamont sang and Will Brandsdorfer played uke to a 1915 tune “Maple Leaf Rag” continuing with “Ukulele Lady.”
Eric Comstock sang and played “After You’ve Gone/Some of These Days.”
Sanborn (Sandy) McGraw (great grandson of Richard A. Whiting, Margaret Whiting ‘s great nephew and nephew of Debbi Whiting) reminisced with lots of Whiting family stories, introducing Michael Feinstein competition winner Cassidy Ewert (with Bryon Sommers on piano) to sing “Till We Meet Again” (written by Richard A. Whiting and Raymond B. Egan in 1918).
The TADA! Youth Theater Ensemble did a short musical scene of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” (with audience singalong). The Prince of Cabaret Steve Ross, on piano, sang “After the Ball” and accompanied Aaron Lee Battle on “Darktown Strutters’ Ball/Shine On Harvest Moon,” as well as Willy Falk singing “Blue Skies/Hard Hearted Hannah.”
Tony Waag and the American Tap Dance Foundation Ensemble performed two tap numbers . . . “Doin’ The New Low-Down” and “By the Light of the Silvery Moon.”
Tony Winner Jill O’Hara (with Steve Ross on piano) sang “Billie” and helped close the show with “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “Sidewalks of New York.”
And it all happened with only 2 minutes of some passing raindrops! The crowds filled the space at the triangle at Flatiron/23rd Street savoring every moment of the exquisite entertainment. Special thanks go out to all the volunteers and to Stage Manager Marilyn Lester.
For more information visit: www.tinpanalleyny.org as it continues to support the great legacy of the “Alley.”
Photos: Genevieve Rafter Keddy except as noted
Video: Sandi Durell