BWW Feature: At Home With Acclaimed Bandleader Billy Stritch
Hugh Jackman may be doing the Broadway musical, but everyone around town knows that Billy Stritch is The Music Man. With more talent than should really be humanly possible, the Maestro has been making his own music and music for many other people in the industry for four decades. He has toured with big-name talents, played Broadway, recorded CDs, and for 18 years he has shared the stage with Jim Caruso for a weekly party at Birdland. He is the whirling dervish of making music and he wasn't about to let a little quarantine stop him.
Billy Stritch and his longtime BFF, Linda Lavin, have been entertaining the world for 8 weeks on Wednesdays at 3 pm EST on Linda's official Facebook page HERE.
NOW Billy Stritch has launched his own show, BILLY'S PLACE, that can be seen on his Facebook page HERE every Thursday at 8 pm.
With all this activity swirling around him, I felt the need to reach out to ask Billy how it felt, going full-on web series with his music.
This interview was conducted digitally and is reproduced in its' entirety.
Name: Billy Stritch
First Cabaret Show (Title, Year, Club): Montgomery, Plant and Stritch (vocal group I was in all through the 80s) we first performed in cabarets and nightclubs in Houston TX
Most Recent Cabaret Show: last solo show was at Birdland in January, last show as an accompanist was with Max Von Essen in Palm Springs CA on March 11th, last public performance was with Jim Caruso and Steve Doyle at Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle Hotel on March 15
Website or Social Media Handles: Billy Stritch WEBSITE
Billy Stritch! You are playing online a couple of times a week these days, aren't you? You do a show with Linda Lavin and you recently debuted BILLY'S PLACE. How are you finding your new life as a virtual performer?
Certainly, it was a novelty at first! I don't think anyone thought two months ago that we were still going to be in lockdown now. So what started out as a novelty has become a very serious way to get my music out into the world. Linda and I did our first show online on March 18 so I feel like we were among a small group of people who sort of pioneered this whole thing. As of today (May 17) we have presented eight shows and I have done four on my own and I am getting more and more comfortable with each passing week. What I have found to be a very positive thing is that a lot of my friends and fans from all over the country who don't get to New York often or at all are now getting a chance to see me every week! That's a very cool thing.
You and Linda have done 8 wonderful shows, now; when you started, did you have any concerns about being in close proximity to do these weekly gigs?
Yes, it was certainly weird at first and we were definitely very concerned about it and in fact, we still practice social distancing. But because we see each other almost on a daily basis we are a little less concerned about being close to each other. She's really like family to me.
Assume that I'm a reader who didn't know about them and just found out - what is the feel of both of these shows - you and Linda, and Billy's Place?
The goal in both of these shows is to make the viewer feel like he or she is sitting in our living room because actually that's where we are! Linda and I have an easy relationship and a wonderful rapport that can only be achieved with someone you've known for years so I think that's the main thing that comes across in our shows together. We both like talking and telling stories about our life and career and I think that makes both shows very unique. In my solo shows, I definitely try and showcase my favorite music and composers and honor some requests that I receive throughout the week. It's a learning process for sure! I've never had to create an entirely new set of music every week but I'm enjoying the challenge!
We are in the 8th week of the New York City lockdown - what's your home life looking like these days?
It's certainly strange for me as a working musician not to be able to travel at this point and I can't even remember a time when I was home for two months without going anywhere for a gig. So you can imagine there is a certain sameness from day to day. Honestly doing the shows with Linda and my own shows every week keeps me on a schedule so the days don't just blend into each other. They help me remember what day it is!
You've been lucky that you and Linda live in the same building, so you haven't been completely cut off from your circle of friends - have you been able to connect with other folks, under distancing protocol?
I've met a few friends for walks in the park and because I have two dogs I'm in the park two or three times a day. I'm so lucky to live adjacent to the park! But outside of that, I have not really met up with friends in a social setting. It doesn't feel like it's time for that just yet.
When you're working, the clubs usually provide you with dinner. Now that you're providing for yourself, are you trying out anything new in the kitchen?
I don't cook but my partner Doug does and occasionally he'll try out something new. And Linda is a wonderful cook and occasionally she has cooked dinner for us and delivered it to our door. She's a fabulous friend and neighbor and I'm so thankful to have her nearby.
What can fans and audiences do to support gig workers who are in need because their jobs have stopped due to the health crisis?
Well, certainly all the people that we know who are performing shows online are trying to create an income to keep things going. We do love performing and knowing people are enjoying what we do but we all have to cover our ongoing expenses. So I'd say that if someone watches and enjoys the shows being live-streamed they should send some money if it's possible. I realize everyone is going through a rough time right now but that's the best way to support your favorite performers. And if you have a favorite club that you frequented regularly prior to this shutdown you might consider purchasing a gift card that you can use when the club reopens. That's a lovely way to show support.
Do you have a health and fitness regime or meditation practice that you are using to stay centered while the world is in flux?
I don't particularly have a set routine but I do try to take at least one good long walk every day. I also am trying to stay better connected to family and friends since there's more time for that now.
Linda Lavin is a groovy chick with some serious moves, when you're not working, do you guys ever push the furniture back, turn on a record and dance around the room?
Linda is definitely one of the grooviest people I know and I can imagine her dancing around the room! She definitely moves a lot when she performs in clubs and concerts but I'm not sure if she's dancing in her apartment these days. I do know we both listen to a lot of music together and apart mainly to get ideas for future shows. I listen to music all the time when I'm walking in the park with the dogs and I get my best ideas that way.
When the world goes back to a kind of normal, do you think that your virtual show BILLY'S PLACE might lead to something in real-time, in one of the clubs?
I'm really enjoying the challenge of creating an hour of new content every week and I imagine it will go on for the next few months but beyond that, who knows? I might even consider continuing these live-streams on a semi-regular basis even after the clubs reopen. It's all up in the air and new territory, isn't it? I do think "Billy's Place" might be a nice concept for my next recording which I'm hopeful can be done in the next year or so.