In Tune with June

My three adult children and I were enjoying the “big salad” (and it really is big and delicious) at the Broadway Diner until the conversation turned to a concert they all enjoyed at Madison Square Garden. They were talking about “The Piano Man.” Who is he? Well, they couldn’t believe that I was not thoroughly knowledgeable about their musical idol, Billy Joel. After that eye-opener, I saw the singer/songwriter/composer when he was featured on television receiving the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize. Then I learned that Joel was one of the best-selling solo artists in the United States. I also learned much more about “The Piano Man” who had the top 40 hits in the ’70s, the ’80s, and the ’90s. He was inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 1992, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. In 2003, he received the Kennedy Center Honors – the nation’s highest honor for influencing American culture throughout the arts. That, indeed, is no small potatoes. A multi-talented man, he plays piano, guitar, harmonica, and the accordion, in addition to singing and writing his own songs. Ironically, when very young, he took up boxing but happily, for today’s musical world, he had his nose broken so that ended that. Influenced by the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show (if you remember that, you’re not as young as you think you are), Joel thought, “I can relate to these guys. I am these guys.” And, indeed, he was. What I didn’t realize was that I am familiar with several of his songs: “New York State Of Mind,” “Just The Way You Are,” “Piano Man,” and “Honesty,” among others. Joel’s staying power as a touring act continues to the present day. At age 65, he now is a franchise at Madison Square Garden, playing to sold-out crowds one concert a month indefinitely. Thank you, Jim, Andy and Jolie, for opening my eyes and my ears (which are in good shape now – that’s an “in” joke – the Healthy Bones ladies will understand).
I lived in River Edge before I married Mel Sturz and moved to Bayonne. At that time, I was writing a column which told readers where to go to hear good jazz. I was popular with the musicians because I never wrote anything bad (Ha!). One of the places I subscribed to regularly and enjoyed was the 92nd Street Y where there was a program called “Lyrics and Lyricists.” It was a series of interviews and music with renowned songwriters such as Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, and Cole Porter. Its concerts are hailed as the country’s premiere American Songbook series. The fully produced programs are performed by stars of Broadway, jazz, and cabaret. It has an interesting concept. Usually there are six to eight performers who take turns in presenting songs backed by a small but excellent band. A great plus is the 92nd Street Y’s concert hall which has excellent acoustics, comfortable seats, and a wonderfully enlarged ladies’ room (very important especially during intermission). One concert last month celebrated the lyrics and music of Stephen Sondheim. The program was entitled “A Good Thing Going” and indeed it was. The composer and lyricist worked with director and producer Harold Prince for eleven years and together they created a series of unprecedented musicals starting with “Company” and ending with “Merrily We Roll Along.” My well-informed partner has followed Sondheim and knows much of his music. Now I’m pretty sure if you were asked to name one Sondheim song you would probably say “Send In the Clowns.” Not having seen the show it came from, “A Little Night Music,” I had trouble initially understanding the lyrics. Happily my personal musical guide was there to help. Fortunately he explains but doesn’t attempt to sing!
I’m lucky – I have one very special night where I can sing, dance, and meet many interesting folks from all over the world. Of course you can easily guess that it happens in New York City. My personal fairyland happens at the Iguana, a Tex-Mex restaurant at 240 West 54th Street. On its second floor, there’s a whole night of entertainment provided by Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks. The marvelous 11-piece band plays music of the ’20s and ’30s — and thanks to my piano-playing mom, I remember most of them. Vince, the handsome leader and big-band historian and collector, leads the Nighthawks. His main instrument is the bass saxophone. In addition he adds humor as well as information along with each song. Aside from the jazz-style music he welcomes visiting talent to join in the fun. That’s the Iguana, where my dreams come true singing with eleven talented musicians who at times sing along with me making me feel and sound so fine.
Did you ever visit a museum and find yourself staring at a heavily touted piece of art and wonder “what’s wrong with me?” That’s what I’ve done many times and one stands out in my mind: Andy Warhol’s “Campbell’s Soup Can.” Others stand in awe and I stand in ignorance. In spite of my lack of appreciation, there’s an Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, PA, and it’s the largest museum in the United States dedicated to a single artist. His works include some of the most expensive paintings ever sold and he’s given credit for having transformed contemporary art with his off-beat, non-traditional, and sometimes irreverent drawing style. Born in 1928, died in 1987 (you do the math), the artist lived openly as a gay man before the Liberation Movement. It was in the ’60s when he made paintings of iconic American objects such as that baffling Campbell’s Soup Can, Elvis Presley, Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, and others. There’s an Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts which has just ended a record-breaking program of donations. It gave away more than 14,000 works, mostly photographic material and prints. In all, the Foundation has distributed 52,786 Warhol works to 322 institutions since 1999 so be prepared for a Warhol wave in 2015. About forty exhibitions will be flooding university art museums and institutions. There is a lot because Warhol’s prolific approach to art and life included toting a camera everywhere and logging what he called “a visual diary.” When he was preparing to work on a portrait painting, he would take hundreds of Polaroids of a single subject as source material. Actually one museum is exploring Warhol’s pioneering use of the selfie. I find myself wondering — is everything Warhol touched really a work of art? The Warhol Foundation is convinced and is intent on spreading his largesse far and wide. The things he did for his own personal use have added value now for the mere fact that Warhol never sold or gave away the images. They were the ones he really liked and kept for himself. That mere fact adds value. Plus there’s more fame with displays of unseen work. When I mention his name, it appears everyone knows who Warhol is — even me. You can e-mail June Sturz at

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