A couple of funny things happened on the way to producing a show called The Kid Who Played the Palace.
Most of them took place after someone told me that the average gestation period of a Broadway musical, from initial idea to opening, is eight years. I was in my twenties, and I scoffed; I knew in my heart that my production would be up and running in maybe 2-3 years, tops.
What happened instead is best explained by John Lennon: "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans."
Looking back, eight years would have been cause for celebration. To quote from a project that took a mere two years, let's start from the very beginning...
On April 3, 1949, I was born into an upper-middle class suburban family with solid roots in both music and public school teaching. My parents were educators; dad was principal of P.S. 68 in New York City, and mom taught special needs students at Bellevue Hospital’s on-site school. Although not professional musicians themselves, they managed to raise three children who were.
I was their first child. My brother, Paul, two years younger, initially an accomplished oboe and clarinet player, would become a piano accompanist for many of the major dance companies in New York, and eventually direct piano-based music classes with children in Seattle, while my sister, Pam, four years younger, is an internationally-acclaimed flutist whose credits include an eclectic variety of film soundtracks, popular CDs, commercials, and Broadway musicals.
My uncle, George Rabin, who I remember quite well, was a violinist in the New York Philharmonic Orchestra; his son, my cousin, Michael Rabin, has been widely hailed as one of the greatest violin virtuosos of all time. I remember seeing him in concert numerous times, and playing catch with him in my backyard when I was 13. On one of those occasions, I took a photo of him which I still have.
In an apparent effort to have me follow in Michaels’ footsteps, my mother arranged for me to begin formal piano lessons at age five. I apparently had some potential, since at age 12, I was awarded a merit-based scholarship to New York’s Juilliard School of Music.
I actually remember my audition. I was asked how much I practiced each day. The truth was maybe two hours daily, but seeking to impress the people behind the table, I lied and said “four”. I walked out and proudly told my mom and she was horrified—not because I was dishonest, but because she realized the judges would have expected better technique. She and my dad debated for a few minutes about whether I should go back in and tell them the truth. Thankfully, we just went home.
I studied classical piano and music theory at Juilliard for the next several years. My classical training was supplemented by my parent’s love of Broadway. While at Juilliard, I recall seeing such original classics as The Sound of Music, Music Man, and many others.
I had no idea that this would eventually have a greater impact on my future than the piano ever would.
My father would always purchase the 33 rpm album at the theater, and he’d play the songs on our Victrola when we got home. That's become a bit of a tradition for me; to this day, despite it being less expensive online, I purchase the CD of every Broadway show I attend at the theater, directly following the performance.
When the Beatles appeared, I took my first foray into popular music, learning dozens of songs on the radio by ear.
In my late teens, I formed a prototype 60’s rock band we called The Renegades. I sang lead and played keyboard. Our crowning achievement, apart from doing quite well in a few county-wide battles of the bands, was opening a concert for the Hollies, the group Graham Nash formed prior to Crosby Stills, and Nash. The Hollies were known for such hits as Bus Stop, Just One Look, The Air That I Breathe, and others, some of which I remember hearing the group perform as I sat backstage after our set.
Realizing our little amateur group, and several others I knew, actually had better-trained musicians, I remember wondering what it was exactly that made groups like the Hollies so popular. This was a mystery that would irritate me and remain unsolved until well after my career as a musician.
My rock years were followed by a discovery of jazz, blues, and older standards, and I began playing professionally in local restaurants and clubs throughout New York City. I also did a bit of studio work. My classical technique led to a nickname given to me by several of the contractors and sound engineers: “the guy with all the notes”.
My first recording job was an ironic throw-back to my classical years- I was hired to play Mozart’s famous piano sonata in C as background music for, of all things, a Taster’s Choice coffee commercial. I remember the awe I felt the first time I heard it on the radio. I also remember very clearly wondering what Mozart would have thought.
I had been out of high school for a year, playing piano and spending all my free time with an irresistibly beautiful girl named Brenda, when, in 1969, at age 20, my mother convinced me I should attend college.
My brother, Paul, and I were both accepted at the University of Hartford; Paul enrolled in the university’s Hartt College of Music. I still loved music intensely, but my interest in further classical training had waned, and, undoubtedly influenced by my parents’ careers, I decided to study teaching. I entered the School of Education, stayed for two years, and hated it. I did however write prolifically for the school paper, the UH News, attacking racism, the War in Vietnam, the school’s corporate board of directors, and other 60's issues.
I feel compelled to mention here that for better or worse, I remember feeling more intellectually challenged and moved by the life and speeches of Malcolm X in a discussion group several of my fellow students and I formed on our own, than anything I learned in my classes.
The inevitable happened: I dropped out, but not before falling in love with an exciting and talented fellow student, an aspiring artist named Marilyn Dowling, who I miss to this day.
And... the long road to Broadway continues next month.
Until then, take good care of yourself.