Recently, I virtually ‘sat down’ with pianist Richard Glazier, whom specialises in Gershwin, to ask him about his new PBS special ‘From Broadway To Hollywood’. Here’s what he had to say:
1. What can people expect to see when watching ‘From Broadway To Hollywood’?
The show combines great music from Broadway shows, classic movies and television with interviews by fascinating people who are connected to the music. As an example, they’ll see Patricia Morison, who was the star of the original Broadway production of “Kiss Me Kate”. She talks about her friendship with Cole Porter and working with him on the show. After her interview I play “So In Love”, the hit song of the show. In another segment we hear from Daniel Mayer Selznick, son of David O. Selznick and grandson of Louis B. Mayer. He talks about what it was like to visit MGM as the grandson of Mr. Mayer, and remembers the first time he saw “Wizard of Oz”, and how moved he was watching “this beautiful girl with red hair, singing her heart out.” Then I play “Over the Rainbow”. I also talk to Lalo Schifrin who wrote things like the theme for “Mission Impossible.” I play his theme for “Mannix”. I also play music from the film “Vertigo”, written by Bernard Herrmann. So there’s a very wide variety of music in the show.
2. Which was your favourite segment to film? And why?
My wife, Jan, and I did all the interview videography ourselves—a two person team—and we filmed in the homes of our subjects. It was wonderful to meet and talk to these amazing people in a relaxed atmosphere. We loved all of the interviews, but we were especially touched by our time with Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. Jan and I were both big fans of his long-running classic television shows, “77 Sunset Strip” and “The F.B.I.”, so we were thrilled to find out what a warm and wonderful man he was in real life. In addition to his acting career, he was also very involved in music, as a composer and the son of two of the 20th century’s biggest classical music stars. We felt instantly at ease with each other and had so much to talk about, including a mutual friendship with Ira Gershwin. For months after the interview we exchanged letters and phone calls with Efrem. In fact, we received a wonderful handwritten letter from him two days before died. He was 95, he was still handsome and he loved life, even played golf up to the time he died. He was a great man and an inspiration.
3. I know you were only young when you discovered your passion for the Gershwin brothers. How old were you, and what did your friends think?
I was nine when I saw “Girl Crazy” and fell in love with the Gershwins’ music and Judy Garland. I was lucky to have family members–my mom and my aunt–who supported my interest. I don’t remember ever telling my friends, to be honest. They were just kids and not into “old things” like I was. (I guess I was a strange little kid!)
4. What was it that sparked your interest in the duo?
I loved watching Judy sing their songs in “Girl Crazy”. I told my aunt about it and she took me to the library to check out books about the Gershwins, and she showed me sheet music and told me about the people on the covers, like Fanny Brice and Al Jolson. She’d also take me to the Goodwill store where I found 78 recordings of Gershwin music that I still have in my collection today. I had been taking piano lessons for a couple of years at that point and I told my teacher that I wanted to start learning Gershwin songs. I’ve been learning and playing them ever since.
5. Which was the first Gershwin song you learnt to play?
“Embraceable You”. I started corresponding with Ira Gershwin when I was nine years old. When I was 12, I was invited to meet him in Beverly Hills. I played “Embraceable You” for him on George’s piano. Ira sang his lyrics as I played. (Listen to Richard play the piece here.)
6. Who is your favourite vocalist to hear sing a Gershwin song?
Judy Garland, of course. Hers was the first voice I heard singing Gershwin and no one else has ever come close. Although Fred Astaire is wonderful, too, and so many of the Gershwins songs were written for him.
7. Which do you think is the most underrated Gershwin song?
“By Strauss” is a great song with one of Ira’s cleverest lyrics. You don’t hear it very often but it was used in the movie “An American in Paris”. Really, there are a lot of great songs they wrote for shows that are long forgotten.
8. Do you have a favourite?
“Love Is Here To Stay”. It was the last song the Gershwins wrote together, my wife and I consider it “our song” and it was my mother’s favorite song, too.
9. How important do you think it is to expose today’s generation to the music of the Great American Songbook?
This music is part of our heritage and our history. It represents what America is all about—a melting pot of cultures—and it certainly showed where our hearts were when it was written. It’s about beauty and love and things that make us feel good. It reflects a world that’s very different than the one we live in now. In a way it’s our gift to the world and we need it now more than ever.
10. And finally, why should people watch ‘From Broadway To Hollywood’?
It’s full of fascinating show business figures with great stories to tell and there’s fabulous music in it. If people like to be entertained they will love it!
Glazier is a very talented guy. I urge you to watch ‘From Broadway To Hollywood’ while you have the chance. It’s sure to be a real treat!
Check Richard’s website for TV listings: http://www.richardglazier.com
The DVD is out now: