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Interview: Gerald Sternbach's Making Music in JASON GRAAE'S GRAAETEST HITS & More

Jason Graae brings his Graaetest (not a typo!) Hits – The Sequel to the El Portal October 21st

Interview: Gerald Sternbach's Making Music in JASON GRAAE'S GRAAETEST HITS & More

Jason Graae brings his Graaetest (not a typo!) Hits - The Sequel to the El Portal October 21, 2022, accompanied by musical director Gerald Sternbach. I got a chance to catch up with Jerry after years of path-crossing at benefits and concerts.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Jerry! It's been a few years since we were consistently crossing paths at various concerts and benefits. And now you're musical director for Jason Graae's Graaetest Hits - The Sequel. When did you first meet Jason?

We first met - doing a show for the late lamented Reprise! Broadways Best in Concert series... I think it was Of Thee I sing around 1998. We also did the following season in 1999 - The Boys From Syracuse. We became friendly and found a great ease in collaboration - so we continued working together.

Have you lost count of how many times you've worked with Jason?

That is a very accurate statement. I must say. I even played at his wedding.

Did you help Jason choose the Graaetest Hits song list? Or did he come to you with it already set?

He always comes up with ideas - and then we work through stuff... Fortunately, we have done several "acts" together - so we can pull from his back catalog and create new songs to add to the set lists. I adore and get his sense of humor and we are good collaborators. We make each other laugh.

You made your LA Philharmonic debut at the Hollywood Bowl the summer of 2005 as on-stage pianist for Stephen Sondheim's 75th Birthday - The Concert and played in many a Sondheim production since. Describe the first time you met this incredible man.

I met Stephen Sondheim in 1976 - I went to New York with a bunch of friends, and we did one of those trips with a show every day and two shows on matinee days. A dear friend of mine had corresponded with him, and I told her I was going to New York to see the original Pacific Overtures... she gave me his Eastside address. I sent him a Haiku poem I had written inspired by my trip --- with the hotel hidden in it - and he responded within a week with his number... and after the matinee of PO, I walked to his house and chatted with him for a couple of hours. Fabulous for a nineteen-year-old! I have around a dozen letters from him.

But I have a great story to share about the 75th birthday tribute. I had just broken up from a bad ten-year relationship and my friends in the cast, decided I should have a makeover. So.... after the run-thorough the day before going to the Bowl - my friends shaved my head! I walked back into the rehearsal studio -- past the director, Paul Lazarus, the musical director, Paul Gemignani and Mr. Sondheim... and he sings to me- 'You've changed, you're daring. You're different in the woods." Not many people can say that they have had Stephen Sondheim sing to them... and by the way, with the shaved head - I haven't looked back.

Was music what you wanted to be involved in growing up? Or did you want to be a lawyer or accountant?

Music, always music. I consider myself blessed I do what I love to do.

When did you become aware of your musical talent?

Probably at five years old. There are even pictures of me in diapers sitting at a piano...

Who was the first to recognize your piano dexterity?

I wouldn't be able to answer that accurately - I can say that many people believed in me, before I believed in me.

You have musical directed and played for a plethora of Broadway babies. If I asked you about all of them, we'd be talking at least throughout the night. So will you give one word or one sentence about the following:

Judy Kaye: Versatile and talented

Scott Bakula: Kind and also talented

Len Cariou: No nonsense and a good guy

Judith Light: A Goddess, I consider her a good friend - she has come to support me in work I have done. She just wished me a happy birthday and a happy Jewish new year... She inspires me because of her constant commitment to being of service through her art.

Patty Duke: I loved working with her - she was also kind and quite diligent and the perfect example of working through your fear.

Marilyn Horne: One of the thrills of my life. Meeting someone who I listened to a lot as a young opera wonk kid - to work with her and just chat with her about the great years of opera... She was still teaching and was singing in her 80s... an inspiration.

Carol Burnett: Also kind and thrilling to work with. You haven't lived till you have sat next to Carol Burnett watching episodes of The Carol Burnett Show looking for special material and then being granted access to it. I also played for her unseen on two episodes of Hawaii Five O.

Donna McKechnie: I loved working with her. It is just great to meet people like that... almost a full circle kind of thing having seen her in the original cast of A Chorus Line on that first trip to New York in 1976.

Carrie Fisher: Such a great experience - I have many stories... but I will say, she signed my Geffen poster of the Los Angeles premiere of Wishful Drinking "To Jerry, who makes my one-woman show more manly."

Melissa Manchester: Another pal. I would actually say more like family... talk about kind and generous. Conducting for her was my first gig as conductor moving on up from assisting someone else on Song And Dance.

Nancy Wilson: I did a benefit to raise money for the devastation caused by Katrina at the bequest of Jennifer Lewis. Ms. Wilson's pianist showed up and asked, "Who wants to play for Nancy Wilson? I have a paying gig." Needless to say I fearlessly said, 'Yes!' I met her right before she went on. We decided on two songs and her keys - and we winged it... Generous. A great give and take and spontaneous - it was like great sex. Seriously.

Jennifer Hudson: Also a spontaneous moment at the bequest of Sheryl Lee Ralph at a Diva's Simply Singing evening many pre-Dreamgirls years ago.

Interview: Gerald Sternbach's Making Music in JASON GRAAE'S GRAAETEST HITS & More Jason Graae: Who's he? LOL.

What's in the future for Gerald Sternbach besides your Graaetest Hits show with Jason October 28 at the Green Room 42 in New York?

I am always working whether it's playing for the likes of Jason Graae, or Frank Ferrante (doing An Evening with Groucho), or Lillias White (in San Francisco), (or Valerie Perri Lipson (Palm Springs), or Andrea Marcovicci and Maude Maggert at Don't Tell Mamma October 29) - or writing. I have four musical projects that I am nurturing - two with Elin Hampton... and two with Jordan Beck. I do have to give everyone a heads up about Witnesses - in which Jordan and I were among seven songwriters contributing to this inspiring, moving musical piece, with book by the redoubtable Robert Freedman - based on five surviving diaries of teenagers murdered in the holocaust. We had an unbelievably successful world premiere underwritten by the California Center for the Performing Arts in Escondido. The show is ready to go hopefully to New York... and the world. Right now.

Thank you again, Jerry! I look forward to hearing your nimble fingers pianoing once more.

I look forward to doing the show in Los Angeles and New York and seeing you!

For tickets to the live performance of Jason Graae's one-nighter October 21, 2022; lick on the button below:

From This Author - Gil Kaan

      Gil Kaan, a former Managing Editor of the now-defunct Genre magazine, has had the privilege of photographing and interviewing some major divas of film, television, and stage in... (read more about this author)

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