It didn’t take long at the star-studded 80th Birthday Celebration Of Songwriter Mike Stoller—With A Tribute To Jerry Leiber show Monday night at 92Y for host Paul Shaffer to point out the remarkable, often under-recognized range of songs written by the legendary Leiber & Stoller.
After all the same team that wrote "Yakety Yak" and "Charlie Brown" for The Coasters (who were there to perform them) and Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock” (sung by current Broadway musical Matilda’s John Arthur Greene) also wrote Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” (with King, who was also there to sing it) and Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” (sung by Sally Kellerman).
Leiber & Stoller’s artistry was further illustrated by Shaffer, who noted how they inserted melody over the blues on the classic Wilbert Harrison hit “Kansas City,” sung at 92Y by Steve Tyrell (now appearing at the Café Carlyle, Tyrell brought over his band for use as the house band).
The duo’s adaptability was demonstrated by Maria Elena Infantino, who embodied Edith Piaf in her “L’Homme A La Moto” French cover of "Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots,” the 1955 hit for The Cheers (featuring, Shaffer related, future game show host Bert Convy). Also representative were Kellerman’s intense take on “Love Potion No. 9,” different from both The Clovers’ and Searchers’ hit versions), and Broadway’s A Night With Janis Joplin star Mary Bridget Davies’ “Hound Dog,” which was a blues hit for Joplin inspiration Big Mama Thornton before Presley covered it (Davies delivered the Thornton version with Joplin's tone).
Statuesque cabaret great Karen Akers somehow stood taller on “Selective Memory,” from Stoller’s post-Leiber 2011 Broadway musical The People In The Picture (music co-written with Artie Butler to book and lyrics by Iris Rainer Dart). Stoller’s wife Corky Hale was delightful in her “Loving You” tribute, and Bettye LaVette practically brought the house down on “I Who Have Nothing” before King and the rest of the performers (also including Brenda Braxton, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Chuck Jackson, Melissa Manchester, Billy Stritch and Tommy Tune) ended with “Stand By Me.”
For his part, a choked-up Stoller said that following the single rehearsal that day, he “couldn’t wait to call Jerry” to tell him what a great show it was--which it most certainly was. And as for his and his partner’s huge influence, Shaffer, who grew up listening to Leiber & Stoller music growing up in Canada, noted that the Ed Sullivan Theater marquis now shows his name, as band leader, beneath “Late Show With David Letterman.”
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