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BWW Exclusive: Larry Blank Tributes Mentor & Friend Donald Pippin

Broadway Music Director, Conductor & Songwriter Donald Pippin passed away last week at the age of 95.

A Tribute to my mentor/friend, Don Pippin

November 25, 1926 (Macon, Georgia)- June 9, 2022 (Nyack, New York)

BWW Exclusive: Larry Blank Tributes Mentor & Friend Donald Pippin Don would be so over the moon and thrilled to know how much he was loved and appreciated. The outpouring of good words and sympathy for his passing is overwhelming.

I met Don along with my childhood friend Don Oliver, in November of 1965. Don Oliver now owns and runs Chelsea Music Service in NYC. We were young theatre fans, collecting memorabilia and music. We phoned Maestro Pippin, who invited us to meet him. He welcomed us. On his state of the art, reel to reel recorder, he played various recordings and gems in his collection. Among them, the then unreleased OVERTURE to 110 In The Shade.

Don had been the music director on Broadway for OLIVER, 110 In The Shade, Foxy, and most recently Ben Franklin In Paris.

He told us he was to be the Music Director of Jerry Herman's new musical MAME in the spring. We were so excited to have met him and he told us both to keep in touch.

BWW Exclusive: Larry Blank Tributes Mentor & Friend Donald Pippin As time went by, I attended the HS of Performing Arts as a drama student, playing piano on the side. I decided to pursue my music career and reached out to Don again at the stage door of MAME. He remembered me and I announced I was President of his fan club. He asked how many members and I said, "so far, just one".

He laughed and invited me to play piano for him. At that time, my piano playing was primitive at best, and he told me to practice. Every so often I would run into him as his career zoomed.

He went on to conduct DEAR WORLD, APPLAUSE, MACK AND MABEL, SEESAW, A CHORUS LINE, WOMAN OF THE YEAR, and LA CAGE AUX FOLLES and he contributed or supervised many other musicals on and off-Broadway. I kept in touch during this time and advised him of my slow and steady progress, getting jobs as a rehearsal pianist.

As my career progressed, Don took me under his wing. He gave me every opportunity, recommendation, and every bit of encouragement that one could hope for the rest of his life. He became my unfailing fan and supporter and he groomed me to follow in his footsteps.

It was more than paternal, avuncular, brotherly or mentorship, it became a fact of my life and he never hesitated to include me in any project he was involved with. Anything he couldn't do, he assumed I'd do it in his place. He would tell the people involved and they said ok. It was just that simple.

He recommended me to Michael Bennett, Marvin Hamlisch, Harvey Schmidt and ultimately to Jerry Herman and he truly handed me a career on a silver platter.

Whenever I credited him for making my career he would say: "It's good to know who to blame."

BWW Exclusive: Larry Blank Tributes Mentor & Friend Donald Pippin He and his wife Marie Santell were godparents to my three children with my wife Kaylyn.

I wouldn't have existed professionally without Don giving me these opportunities. His total faith and support were a gift.

He was very loyal to others as well, including Pianist/Conductor Nick Archer, drummer/percussionist Ray Marchica. He was steadfastly loyal to so many musicians in his orchestras as well as singers. He was encouraging to all of us forever.

Don and I shared the podium more times than I can remember in concerts and recordings in New York, LA, London and other musical ports of call. The very connection of my name with his, gave me credibility before I was entitled to any such notice. We had so many laughs on these jobs. I remember him turning to a rather difficult diva and saying "you know we have you outnumbered". When a singer dawdled he turned to me and said, "let me use a bit of PERSUASIVE accompaniment".

The last time I saw Don was at the Jerry Herman Memorial at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in NY. Feb 3, 2020 , before Covid changed our lives. By all rights, Don should've been the Music Director and conductor but at 93, it was beyond his stamina and with his blessing I was assigned that role. Michael Feinstein (who was in charge) and I realized that Don had to be present. We asked him to conduct the MAME number with Ron Raines singing the lead.

BWW Exclusive: Larry Blank Tributes Mentor & Friend Donald Pippin

I stood by Don on the podium. Not because of concern of any mishaps, but to give him the support he had given me from the very beginning. I turned pages for him and made sure he didn't physically stumble from getting on and off the podium. I made sure he didn't have to use a walking stick or cane. He was very proud and I wanted to make sure he got on and off stage with the authority that he had trained me to take in giving a performance. While he was conducting the MAME dance and the amazing vocals that he had written for it, he leaned over and said under his breath "Who wrote this"? He then smiled an impish grin. That was his irreverent sense of humour that he had passed on to me. In moments of pure craziness and insanity in the many performances we shared, he always made light of the moment if anything came close to going awry. He didn't miss a nuance and conducted the end of the number just as he had done so many times going back to 1966. At the end of the number he said to me under his breath "What do I do now?". I grabbed his hand to give him physical support and comfort and I said "Take a bow and piss off stage left" which is exactly what he did. "Piss off" in the best British sense of the expression.

BWW Exclusive: Larry Blank Tributes Mentor & Friend Donald Pippin

The next day, he phoned me and went through every moment of the concert from top to bottom, commenting on performances and things he noticed. He had stayed and watched every bit of it and then he dissected every part of it musically with not one negative comment. I wasn't even aware he had stayed or would concern himself with the details.

However, he had been Jerry Herman's go-to musical guru and mine as well. How could he not protect and hover over the music he cared so much about?

He finished with something he had said to me many times out of affection: "All I can say about your conducting, is that I didn't miss me on the podium". I don't mean that as a self serving compliment. It just makes me feel like an impersonator. I will miss having him on the podium and in my life.

It's our mutal loss and we were blessed to have him around as long as we did.

Photos courtesy of Larry Blank

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BWW Exclusive: Larry Blank Tributes Mentor & Friend Donald Pippin
June 14, 2022

Larry Blank writes a touching tribute to his longtime friend, Don Pippin, who passed away last week a the age of 95 years old.