Award-winning pianist, storyteller and cultural historian Richard Glazier will bring his passion for the history, personalities and music of the Great American Songbook to Tucson Dec. 7 in Invisible Theatre’s “Broadway to Hollywood.” His one-man show includes personal stories, movie clips, interview footage and — of course — piano music, all from a very personal perspective.
Glazier grew up in Indianapolis and began studying piano at age 6. When he was 9, he saw the 1943 film “Girl Crazy” and became an instant fan of George and Ira Gershwin, who wrote the music and lyrics. He started writing letters to Ira (George had passed away in 1937), and three years later, Ira invited Glazier to visit him in his home in Beverly Hills. “George Gershwin was my hero from when I was 9 and his brother asked me to play on his personal piano,” Glazier told the AJP. “You can imagine how that would change one’s life.”
Promising to share more details about the Gershwins during his performance, Glazier describes Ira as a quiet, gentle man, who was profoundly affected by the death of his brother at such a young age.
Glazier earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in piano performance from Indiana University School of Music, and a Ph.D. in musical arts from the Cleveland Institute of Music. “As a classically trained concert pianist, I chose in my 30s to go this route, to dedicate my life to American popular music. I play it and interpret it with the same respect as a Chopin nocturne. These are wonderful, sophisticated arrangements of these songs. Every note is handcrafted.”
“Broadway to Hollywood” incorporates interviews Glazier conducted for his upcoming PBS special by the same name, which will air next spring. “There’s something very special about meeting the people who are involved in the music you are playing, from the Great American Songbook.” The show includes a film clip of a duet with Mickey Rooney on the old MGM sound stage.
Glazier notes that 99 percent of the songwriters of the “golden age” were Jewish. “George Gerswhin told Cole Porter, if you want your songs to sell, they need to sound more Jewish,” according to Glazier.
“As Americans, we can be very proud of this genre of music,” says Glazier. “It represents the melting pot of cultures that came to this country for a better life: Yiddish theater, the music of the synagogue, jazz, ragtime, synthesized together to create this voice. It changed the course of 20th century American musical history.”
Having performed in Tucson several times, including a Gershwin tribute in 2004 and “Ragtime to Roses” in the Invisible Theatre’s 2012 summer series, Glazier looks forward to returning to his old stomping ground — and to working again with Invisible Theatre Managing Artistic Director Susan Claassen, who also directed his first PBS special, “From Gershwin to Garland — a Musical Journey with Richard Glazier,” which won four Telly awards in 2010.
Glazier will perform “Broadway to Hollywood” on Sunday, Dec. 7, at 3 p.m. at the Berger Performing Arts Center, 1200 W. Speedway Blvd. Tickets, $40 (with discounts for groups, seniors and students) are available from the Invisible Theatre box office at 882-9721 or online at www.invisibletheatre.com. Rush tickets may be available at half-price 30 minutes before show time.
Nancy Ben-Asher Ozeri is a freelance feature writer and editor in Tucson.