If you don't know what Do-Wop music is, you might not recognize the name Neil Sedaka, but I would bet you remember several of his songs, like “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, “Stairway to Heaven” (I promise! But listen to it.), “Love Will Keep Us Together”, “Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen” or “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do”.
Neil Sedaka, born in 1939, showed musical aptitude by second grade and on advice from his teacher, his mom, taking a part-time job, bought him a second-hand piano so he could take lessons. She planned on her son becoming a renowned classical concert pianist and he did audition successfully for a piano scholarship to Julliard, but pop music was on the rise and Sedaka was soon hooked.
When Sedaka was 13, he was heard playing by a neighbor, who wanted him to meet her 16 year old son, Howard Greenfield, an aspiring lyricist and poet. Together, this team became Brill Building's composers. And this is where the story of the “Do-Wop Daddy” (as I think of him) began, with his first hit “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, performed by The Tokens, a band he and his former high school classmates had formed. This was about 1957. And he hasn't stopped since.
To date, the legendary songwriter has written, alone or with a partner, which was often his highschool pal Howard Greenfield, over 500 songs. And Sedaka, like the Energizer Bunny, just keeps on going. The man is now 75 years old and keeps a rigid scheduled tour of concerts on his calendar.
Friday night, as Sedaka performed at Schermerhorn Symphony Center here in Nashville, I was amazed at the songs he had written for other people like “Love Will Keep Us Together” by The Captain and Tenille. I was also struck at how happy almost all of his songs have been. As I sat there listening to him sing song after recognizable song, still in good voice though he seemed to have some breathing or “frog in the throat” challenges, I realized that like his songs, he appears to be a happy, bouncy, likable person.
It was a pleasure watching him, at 75 years old, dancing a jig, be-bopping to his own piano playing, obviously enjoying being accompanied by the Nashville Symphony, all the while smiling and so obviously still enjoying life. It gave me such a hopeful feeling for my future; I can only hope I'm like that in 20 years. I left the concert do-wopping myself, which is always a sign that you had a good time.
Tonight is the last night Mr. Sedaka will be playing here in Nashville – at least for this year. Boppin with Sedaka is the cat's pajamas and I suggest you get your tickets now.
And if Sedaka Live “don't float your boat”, you might prefer Branford Marsalis Plays John Williams, coming to Schermerhorn May 15-17. Marsalis is a saxophonist of astonishing proportions and will be performing a program with the Nashville Symphony that features John Williams' Escapades, a jazz flavored piece based on the composer's music used for the hit film Catch Me If You Can. You will be delighted with Marsalis' soprano sax skills, on Fantasia, a lyrical piece by Villa Lobo. He will also perform Gershwin's An American in Paris as he closes the evening, a piece that captures the fast paced life and love in the big city.
There is always something that will please anyone at the diverse Symphony Center, including Indigo Girls May 23, Brahm's Requiem May 29-31 or The Music of Pink Floyd performed by the Nashville Symphony on June 3. See what I mean? This place is not just classical music anymore, but a smorgasbord of events which include, oldies, jazz, pop, rock and classical.
Oh, on a special note, I'm SO excited to see Il Volo is coming on June 17! I'm so excited about this concert. These guys are a worldwide sensation that I've seen on every talk show and news program there is over the last couple of years. These guys perform a mixture of opera standards and pop hits. I mean, really, they've toured with Streisand – need I say anything more?